Just three days after a successful Ivy League Championships, fencing continued its winning streak to overtake NYU, Sacred Heart, and Vassar at home for the George Kolombatovich Historical Meet on Feb. 12.
The meet honors the late Columbia head coach who, like current head coach Michael Aufrichtig, graduated from NYU before helming the Columbia program. The women’s team finished 3-0 while the men went 2-1 in Dodge Fitness Center’s historic Blue Room, with the latter’s only loss arriving at the hands of crosstown rivals NYU.
Although the men fell to NYU 16-11, they defeated Sacred Heart 20-7 and Vassar 19-8. On the women’s side, the Lions never had a close contest, overwhelming NYU 18-9, Sacred Heart 21-6, and Vassar 25-2.
Senior Violet Michel, who leads a women’s team fresh off of an Ivy League Championships win, took on a completely new role on the team this season as captain.
“I suddenly learned how to help take care of people and start to think about other people at competitions and now I totally have a totally different mentality when I’m competing. I think it’s made me fence better because I feel more part of a community, whereas when I was younger, I felt kind of alone on the strip,” Michel said. “Now I feel like I have my whole family on the strip there with me.”
In addition to exchanging the Irving Martin Preschel men’s fencing trophy with NYU and keeping possession of the Katy Bilodeau ’87CC women’s trophy, the Lions honored their upperclassmen through Senior Day. The Light Blue recognized Michel, Anne Cebula, Ester Schreiber, Giana Vierheller, Andrew Doddo, Isaiah Garlin, Sam Moelis, Sacha Schouker, and Mick Yamanaka.
“It’s pretty crazy because it's been four years now, and I've been fencing since I’ve been like seven or eight,” Schouker said. “And I have my brother on the team, too [first-year Noé Schouker], so at least he’ll be taking up the mantle.”
Schouker bested Troy Kapitze and Bennett Cohen of Sacred Heart 5-4 and 5-3, respectively.
After a wearing weekend at Ivies, some upperclassmen used different weapons during the Kolombatovich meet as a chance to keep things fresh. Typically a sabre fencer, Michel fenced foil for multiple bouts at Wednesday’s meet.
“I actually felt a lot sharper and cleaner. … You’re a little bit more restricted in foil, and so when I went back to sabre, I was ten times faster, hitting much harder,” Michel explained. “I felt really confident and good.”
According to Aufrichtig, although switching weapons provides a welcome break for some of the fencers post-Ivies, it adds a “different pressure” to the athletes.
“People get very excited, and so to kind of keep that excitement, we know we just kind of change it up,” Aufrichtig said. “They’re fighting hard where they might not be fighting hard if they’re fencing their own weapon. So we give it to the seniors … every once in awhile, if someone needs time off.”
Often, the fencers excelled even when using a different weapon; Doddo, who usually fences sabre, was 3-0 in foil on the day.
Although the tournament does not carry the same pressure as the Ivies, where tension is palpable with both the men’s and the women’s Ancient Eight crowns on the line, the Kolombatovich meet holds meaning for both Columbia and NYU due to the coach’s long legacy with both schools. Kolombatovich, an American fencing Hall-of-Fame coach and referee, led Columbia to five NCAA championships.
Aufrichtig recalled fencing in the same gym against a Kolombatovich-led Lions team.
“I really knew George a lot—really nice—and when he retired and I became the head coach, George and I actually met a few times,” Aufrichtig said. “He kind of told me a couple things, what to look out for, just kind of guiding me when I first came here.”
The Lions’ next large tournament, the NCAA Northeast Regional, will be held on March 8 in Ithaca, New York. The Lions will send the top four fencers in each weapon and gender to the regional meet.
Senior staff writer Mackenzie George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kenziegeorge22.